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Fossils on Mars? Geologist unearths intriguing hypothesis. – CSMonitor.com

Fossils on Mars? Geologist unearths intriguing hypothesis.

Martian sedimentary structures look surprisingly similar to terrestrial structures formed by microbes. Coincidence?

By Samantha Laine, Staff Writer / January 7, 2015


This photo released by NASA shows a self-portrait taken by the NASA rover Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars.

NASA FileEvidence of water on Mars:Check. Organic chemistry in rock formations: Check. Methane in the atmosphere:Check. And now, fossils? Too soon to tell.

The journal Astrobiologyrecently published a paper that examines Martian rock structures photographed by NASA’sMars rover Curiosity that look strikingly like structures on Earth that are known to have been created by microbes. The paper’s author, Old Dominion University geomicrobiologist Nora Noffke, has studied microbially induced sedimentary structures, or MISS, on Earth for 20 years, even finding evidence of 3.48 billion year old MISS in the Western Australia’s Dresser Formation. The outcrop on Mars is about 3.7 billion years old.

Is this proof of life on ancient Mars? No. But Noffke’s research takes the search to a new step, especially in light of the recent detection of methane and other organic molecules on Mars. Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and an associate editor of the journal Astrobiology, offers his thoughts on why this development is significant.

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“I’ve seen many papers that say ‘Look, here’s a pile of dirt on Earth,’” writes Dr. McKay. “‘And because they look the same, the same mechanism must have made each pile on the two planets.”

He continues: “That’s an easy argument to make, and it’s typically not very convincing. However, Noffke’s paper is the most carefully done analysis of the sort that I’ve seen, which is why it’s the first of its kind published in Astrobiology.”

Mars and Earth shared similar early histories, with Mars probably being a much warmer and wetter planetbillions of years ago than it is today. Gillespie Lake, the part of a dry lakebed on Mars where the structures were found, endured seasonal flooding, a hypothetically perfect situation for microbes to thrive.

On Earth, shallow bodies of water contain colonies of microbes that trap and rearrange sediments into identifiable structures. These structures can be found across the Earth in a variety of formations and types, such as pockets, domes, erosional remnants, roll-ups, chips, pits, and cracks.

“All I can say is, here’s my hypothesis and here’s all the evidence that I have,” Noffke said in Astrobiology Magazine, “although I do think that this evidence is a lot.”Noffke discusses next steps to provide proof for her hypothesis, but technology has not yet reached this stage. One important step includes bringing samples to Earth for in depth analyses, an unfeasible task. Or, better technology could be developed to enable deeper, more precise analyses of sedimentary samples on Mars.

“At this point, all I’d like to do is point out these similarities,” Noffke adds. “Further evidence must be provided to verify this hypothesis.”


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NASA: Mysterious signal is enigmatic, perplexing – CSMonitor.com

NASA: Mysterious signal is enigmatic, perplexing

NASA mysterious signal: Detected by two NASA spacecraft, X-ray emissions of unknown origin could lend insight into dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to compose more than 80 percent of all matter in the known universe.

By Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer / June 26, 2014


Perseus Cluster is seen in an image that uses data representing more than 17 days of observation time over 10 years.

X-ray: NASA, CXC, SAO, E.Bulbul, et

Two spacecraft have detected a possible signal of dark matter, the mysterious, invisible stuff that makes up most of the material universe.

NASA‘s Chandra X-ray Observatory and theEuropean Space Agency‘s XMM-Newtonsatellite spotted a spike of X-ray emission coming from more than 70 different galaxy clusters. While the origin of the X-rays remains unclear at the moment, they could be generated by the decay of a certain type of dark-matter particle, scientists said.

(Please click the link below to read full article on Christian Science Monitor-

http://m.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/0626/NASA-Mysterious-signal-is-enigmatic-perplexing?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Science_final&utm_campaign=4_Newsletter%3AScience_Sailthru_LC&cmpid=ema%3Anws%3AScience%2520Weekly%2520%2806%2F26%2F2014%29 )

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Mysterious ‘energy ribbon’ at solar system’s edge baffles scientists – CSMonitor.com

Mysterious ‘energy ribbon’ at solar system’s edge baffles scientists

First spotted by a NASA spacecraft, a bizarre ribbon of high-energy particles could help unlock secrets about the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space.

By Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com Contributor / February 14, 2014

A model of the interstellar magnetic fields – which would otherwise be straight – warping around the outside of our heliosphere, based on data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer. The red arrow shows the direction in which the solar system moves through the galaxy.


A strange ribbon of energy and particles at the edge of the solar system first spotted by a NASA spacecraft appears to serve as a sort of “roadmap in the sky” for the interstellar magnetic field, scientists say.

By comparing ground-based studies and in-space observations of solar system’s mysterious energy ribbon, which was first discovered by NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) in 2009, scientists are learning more details about the conditions at the solar system’s edge. The study also sheds light into the sun’s environment protects the solar system from high-energy cosmic rays. [Photos and Images from NASA’s IBEX Spacecraft]

“What I always have been trying to do was to establish a clear connection between the very high-energy cosmic rays we’re seeing [from the ground] and what IBEX is seeing,” study leader Nathan Schwadron, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire, told Space.com.

Previously, maps from ground-based observatories showed researchers that clusters of cosmic rays — extremely high-energy particles that originate from supernovas — are correlated with the IBEX ribbon. The ribbon is roughly perpendicular to the interstellar magnetic field while cosmic rays stream, on average, along the interstellar magnetic field. (The particles themselves are created from interactions between the solar wind and interstellar matter.)

In the longer term, Schwadron said work like this will help scientists better understand more about the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. This is a region that only one mission — NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft — has reached so far, and scientists know little about what that environment is like.

Travelling through the transition zone

The sun’s sphere of influence in the solar system is known as the heliosphere. The sun’s “solar wind” of high-energy particles flows within the heliosphere and pushes back against high-energy cosmic rays originating in interstellar space. The transition zone between these two regions is called the heliosheath.

Here’s where a mystery arises: Voyager 1’s measurements of the magnetic field from the edge of interstellar space show a starkly different direction of the magnetic field inferred in the IBEX ribbon, Schwadron said.

“At that point, you say to yourself what’s wrong? What could possibly be the issue? It seems like we now have good independent confirmation that the IBEX ribbon is ordered by the interstellar magnetic field, and we know that Voyager 1 takes fairly good measurements,” Schwadron said.

The few studies examining this issue, showing little consensus. An October paper co-authored by Schwadron in Astrophysical Journal Letters argued that Voyager 1 could be measuring interstellar plasma coming in through magnetic field lines, but may still be in the heliosheath itself. This stands in contrast to findings from NASA and other science groups saying Voyager 1 is definitively in interstellar space.

The researchers noted that Voyager 1 is picking up its information “at a specific time and place”, but IBEX’s data is collected and averaged across vast distances, so that could also lead to discrepancies.

“What is really missing here is our understanding of the physics,” Schwadron said, adding that reconnection between magnetic field lines could be an example of something that changes the conditions of the boundary region.

The research was published today (Feb. 13) in the journal Science Express and includes participation from several United States research institutions.

Follow Elizabeth Howell@howellspace, or Space.com@Spacedotcom. We’re also onFacebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.